Register Friday | April 19 | 2019

The Devil You Know

Slim-Fast and the Unbearable Lightness of Being

Former supermodel Lauren Hutton couldn’t model anything she didn’t believe in. And Lauren believes in Slim-Fast. Of course, she was skeptical at first—at least that’s what she shares in the book, Slim-Fast Body-Mind-Life Makeover:

When I first started hearing about Slim-Fast, I was skeptical … It sounded like Madison Avenue funny business to me, like the kind of quick-fix gimmick my generation had always been taught to resist.

But then Lauren learns better. Or rather, her ghostwriter does:

And what I learned is that the Slim-Fast Plan is no gimmick. It’s a program, designed by leading nutritionists and proven in decades of studies and consumer success stories, that helps you to achieve a balanced diet every day.

I’ll never forget the Slim-Fast commercials I saw as a child: people jumping ecstatically by expanses of ocean, women in bathing suits directing their lobotomized expressions of joy heavenward. Today, the Slim-Fast website still features photos of strewn berries and thin women wading in the waves. I thought for certain that liquid and meal replacement diets would go out of fashion with MC Hammer pants and heavily hairsprayed bangs—nothing that tacky and absurd could possibly assume a permanent position in the market—and yet Slim-Fast remains a force to be reckoned with in the diet industry. Despite a brief, bleak stint with it in adolescence, I’d forgotten what spawned my loathing for the products. Feeling masochistic, curious, bored, nostalgic, etc., I decided to wander through the wreck of my dieting youth, and sample all its former hells along the way …

Slim-Fast Ready-To-Drink Meal Options, Creamy Milk Chocolate Shake
I loved the taste of the Creamy Milk Chocolate Slim-Fast shake immediately; it tasted like the chocolate milk of my childhood.—Lauren Hutton

When I first opened the can, the smell of the inside of a multi-vitamin jar gone rancid hit me like dung. I instantly recalled that doomed episode in my teens when I drank these horrors for a while, in an earnest attempt to lose imagined weight. Needless to say, it ended in tears in some godless fry hut. I could no longer shake the conviction that the drink tasted like ass, smelled worse and left me starving. It still has the gloopy, insidious texture of Pepto-Bismol: it feels like it’s coating not just your stomach but your soul. I suppose this is the magical result of combining cellulose gel—a thickening agent which mimics the mouth feel of fat—and canola oil. I can’t imagine getting used to it, I can’t imagine getting full on it, but I suppose the 34 grams of sugar per shake do force a mad and momentary smile to cross your lips—soon to dissolve once the hunger sets in, I’m afraid.

Serving Size: 1 shake Calories: 220 Fat: 3 g Sugars: 34 g Carbohydrates: 40 g
Veronica’s Verdict: Help! The Blob has my innards …

Slim-Fast Optima Meal Bar, Chocolate Cookie Dough
In an effort to compete with the low-carb hysteria currently monopolizing the diet industry, Slim-Fast has concocted its own line of artificially sweetened darlings: Optima. This meal bar contains 25 percent less sugar than its original gangrenous sister, despite its first ingredient being corn syrup. The fact that it contains plenty of hydrogenated oils may explain why it’s so palatable. Synthetic and clay-like, certainly, but satisfyingly chewy and sweet. Still, it left a disturbingly numbish aftertaste in my mouth, and one cannot dismiss the eerie feeling one naturally gets when one reads EXCESS CONSUMPTION MAY HAVE A LAXATIVE EFFECT on the back of the package. As with the shake, I wasn’t full after one. And my mouth took awhile to return from its exile.

Serving Size: 1 meal bar Calories: 220 Fat: 5 g Sugars: 15 g Carbohydrates: 35 g
Veronica’s Verdict: Cookie dough meets the dark side of the Force.

Slim Fast Optima Snack Bar, Peanut Butter Crunch
Somewhere inside the little tampon package, you will uncover 1 ounce of pure crack, otherwise known as the snack bar itself. Infinitesimally small it is, but good. I doff my hat. This is Butterfinger’s Mini-Me; divine but maddeningly over in two bites. Frankly, I felt unsatisfied and screwed over. A low-carb product, its first ingredient is maltitol syrup, used as a replacement for sucrose in sugar-free foods. Despite the fact that there is little “real” sugar in this bar, I experienced an odd chemical high for about two minutes afterwards. Then the darkness. Oh, the darkness.

Serving Size: 1 snack bar Calories: 120 Fat: 4.5 g Sugars: 1 g Carbohydrates: 21 g
Veronica’s Verdict: The unbearable lightness of being screwed over.

Gone are the liquid protein diets of the late seventies. Chock full of goodness they were—animal tendons and hides spell “yum” in every language. But I don’t believe Slim-Fast products fare better on any scale—moral, nutritional or gastronomical. Despite their being vitamin- and mineral-heavy, this is still the devil you know: a despicable kitchen sink mix passing itself off as a healthy alternative. This particular stew can contain anything from sugar, corn syrup, cellulose gel, maltitol syrup, canola oil, partially hydrogenated palm, palm kernel, cottonseed and soybean oils, to a host of other chemicals, additives and preservatives, all designed to make it both calorically angelic and palatable to the dieter. But Slim-Fast is singular in that, unlike the Atkins or Zone meal-replacement bars, you can’t buy singles. Like cigarettes, you can only buy the box. A Faustian bargain, if ever there was one.

Veronica Tartley (Mona Awad) has eaten, shamelessly or barely at all, in nearly every city in the world. She enjoys rain, hurling things against walls and walks on the beach. She lives beautifully in an undisclosed location at the edge of the known universe. There, she weeps her mascara tears, churns butter in the old style and listens to French accordion music.